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13 April 2012

The city as a home

Though mostly occupied with his fellow liberals, David Goodhart also lays down a challenge to conservatives:

  • “…the right remains attached to its own form of abstract universalism, more concerned with the procedures of the market than what kind of society they have helped create. Some of the notions of loyalty, civility and respect that conservatives are so comfortable with in politics need to be reintroduced into the economic sphere.”

To judge from his brilliant essay for the American Enterprise Institute, Roger Scruton would appear to agree:

  • “In one area in particular, neither market solutions nor bureaucratic controls have worked in a way that the ordinary citizen would wish: city planning and the built environment.”

Uncontrolled urban sprawl, he argues, not only destroys city centres, but all the things that depend on city centres:

  • “Markets depend on cities, which are the principal places where people come together to exchange goods and services, as well as knowledge, aspirations, and ideals. ‘Civilisation as we know it is inseparable from urban life,’ wrote Friedrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty.”

However, the “suburbanised city”, he says, is a “city of absentees” – sucking the life from its very heart:

  • “A city begins as a means but lives on as an end… even if the city’s population is constantly changing, it owes its attraction and success to what is permanent. Cities are made by their long-term residents, by the institutions and facilities that grow within their boundaries, and by the public-spirited benefactors who care for them as a home… Nothing is more important to a city than its center, and when the center decays, the result is an ecological disaster.”

The ‘Broken Windows’ theory tells us what happens to an abandoned home. We shouldn’t be surprised if a parallel process of decay takes hold of a half-abandoned city centre.


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